Gaddafi: Wanting It Both Ways

There are good reasons why Administration officials played it coy on the subject of whether they intended to kill Gaddafi with a well-aimed bomb. For one thing, acknowledging such an attempt could provoke a political fire storm. But more important, the idea of killing a leader raises difficult legal and moral issues, issues that the Administration seems unwilling and unready to confront publicly.

If the raid was in fact a veiled execution attempt, it would pit the Reagan Administration against a specific presidential order and substantial legal precedent. In 1976, after public discontent over the revelations of cia assassination attempts in...

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